Editorial: Stopping species invasions
By Jenn Watt
Invasive species – whether in plant or animal form – pose a serious threat to our native flora and fauna, the enjoyment of our properties and sometimes to our health.
Most of us know this, but it’s not always clear exactly what we can do to limit the spread of giant hogweed, zebra mussels or emerald ash borer.
The provincial government has tightened the purse strings on many ministries and programs, and invasive species initiatives haven’t been immune. The Invasive Species Centre in Sault Ste. Marie has kept most of its funding this year, with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry minister announcing $850,000 for the centre last month, however others have seen funding for invasive species programming pulled back or eliminated, including those run by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations, Ontario Invasive Plant Council, Ontario Biodiversity Council and others.
Without funding for these programs, the likelihood is that we’ll be seeing fewer educational materials, less outreach, and fewer community projects to locate and root out species from our lakes and forests. Yet, the problem certainly hasn’t gone away.
Information from the Invasive Species Centre survey in 2018 showed that Haliburton County spent more than $61,000 on preventing, detecting, controlling and managing invasive species. Across the province, tens of millions have been spent by municipalities on the problem. Those species considered of greatest concern by responding municipalities include emerald ash borer, giant hogweed, phragmites, Japanese knotweed and European buckthorn.
Generally, the issue with invasive species is that they can out-compete native species, taking up a disproportionate amount of resources and jeopardizing their survival, which in turn could put the rest of the ecosystem in disarray.
In some cases, invasive species can pose a health risk to humans. Giant hogweed, which has been found within Haliburton County, not only monopolizes space, shading out other plants around it, its sap causes serious burns to humans who handle it. It looks a bit like Queen Anne’s lace, spreads quickly and can grow up to 5.5 metres tall.
“Giant hogweed has a phototoxic sap, that when exposed to light can cause severe burns if on the skin and has been reported to cause blindness. Removing hogweed can be dangerous because of the sap; it should also not be burned or composted for this reason,” the Invasive Species Centre advises.
It’s important that we continue to stay vigilant about invasive species, report them and seek guidance on how to stop their spread. Each species poses its own challenges – some insects hitch a ride on firewood brought into the county, some plant seeds can be carried on ATVs or vehicles transported from one place to another, aquatic invaders can come aboard boats that haven’t been properly cleaned or in bait buckets. The larger hurdle is keeping research, outreach and awareness ongoing in a time of financial austerity.
(Fact sheets on invasive species can be found at https://www.invasivespeciescentre.ca.)